By: Yehuda Goldfeder  | 

My Three Graduations: Coronavirus Silver Linings

Graduation is an important part of the college experience. It provides closure, an opportunity to reflect and a chance to say goodbye. I’d been looking forward to my ceremony since arriving at Yeshiva University, and when the coronavirus pandemic hit and resulted in the prospect of a traditional graduation being canceled, I was devastated. When it was officially announced in March that the commencement was not going to be in person due to a ban on large gatherings, it seemed unlikely that I would be able to get a satisfying feeling of closure to my college years, especially because many of my closest friends lived so far away.

I was very vocal about the need to have a satisfying ceremony to provide that closure and as a result of my advocacy, I was added to a committee consisting of a fine group of student leaders. We had two meetings over Zoom, but I was unsure how successful the endeavor was. We were assured that the commencement would be more than just a Zoom session, which is how the award ceremony was conducted a month prior to graduation. Still, going into the week leading up to graduation, I did not have the highest of hopes that my time at YU, a very special time in my life, would have a satisfying conclusion. I found that I was very wrong.

In fact, I was fortunate to have not one but three graduation ceremonies. The first was a complete surprise. My family members, spearheaded by my cousin, got together and planned a surprise party for me — socially-distant of course. My parents told me I had a package outside, so I followed them out. I was met with blaring music and shouts of Mazal Tov as I was thrown into a cap and gown and marched around my front lawn. Several people were dressed in makeshift gowns and many relatives who couldn’t make it called in to say hi, including my brother in Israel, even though it was 3 a.m. for him. Feeling comforted that I would at least have this wonderful graduation, I no longer pinned all my hopes on the YU graduation.

But that wasn’t all. On this past Motzei Shabbos, the night before graduation, I was informed of an impromptu graduation ceremony being planned by Associate Dean for Torah Studies Shoshana Shechter, Dean of Students Chaim Nissel and Senior Director of Student Life Josh Weisberg for all graduates in the Monsey area. They realized that there is a high concentration of YU students and faculty in their neighborhood, which prompted an opportunity for a small, socially-distant gathering. We had a front lawn celebration with 10 graduates, and I got to march, throw my cap in the air, celebrate with friends, as well as receive a celebratory fake diploma from a dean. It was a uniquely touching experience and I give my warmest thanks to all those who planned it and made it possible.

Enough with my personal experience. All this led up to the virtual graduation that YU planned for all graduates, regardless of location. Despite my initial doubts, I was blown away by what YU provided under the circumstances. The ceremony was truly amazing, proving to be both personal and meaningful, and the afterparty was also a lot of fun. It was great to see, at least virtually, friends and peers celebrating our success together for one last time. 

Sure, 2020 has been and will continue to be a challenging year, but we can also try to see the silver linings. Commencement may not have been in Madison Square Garden, but it was something amazing and unforgettable. As I say goodbye to my time at YU, to the great friends I’ve made along the way, I am thankful that I was able to have a commencement, special in its own way. I hope we can all stay in touch.

Photo Caption: A graduation cap with 2020 tassel
Photo Credit: Pixabay